USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘birthday’
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Seaweed Soup on Birthdays -A Korean Tradition

Main Text:

HK: “On somebody’s birthday it is tradition to have seaweed soup”

Collector: “Can it be any kind of seaweed soup?”

HK: “I don’t think it really matters, but there are a lot of traditional recipes for seaweed soup out there”

Context: 

HK moved to the Unites States from South Korea when she was in kindergarten. After being raised in different parts of Asia an coming to the United States HK has acquired many traditions, customs and folk beliefs that have been passed down from her family. The ritualistic act of eating seaweed soup at someone’s birthday is just one example of a ritual that HK told me during my collection helps to keep her culture alive. She said that at least for her family specifically, having rituals and customs like these allow for people living in the Unites States to still connect with their family and homeland in Korea. This connection that HK feels to her culture and family is one reason that she says that she will continue to educate and pass down this seaweed-eating ritual. Another reason that she says that she remembers such a ritual is that it has happened on every one of her birthday’s so that if she evert had a birthday without it, it would not actually feel like a special moment anymore to her.

Analysis:

According to HK when asked why the meal of choice for a birthday is seaweed soup she said that it is related to another ritualistic act what they give to the mother after giving birth because it helps to nourish the body. One obvious interpretation of why it is a Korean tradition to eat seaweed soup at the birth of a child and at a child’s birthday party is the nutritional value of seaweed. Seaweed has high quantities of calcium, magnesium, iron and other important nutrients.  It makes sense for a mother to eat this after brith for this reason because magnesium and iron will aid in a quick recovery of the energy and bloodlust that naturally occurs at birth. The second reason for why this tradition may have occurred in the first place and is still being passed down is the accessibility to seaweed. Most of Korea is bordered by Ocean where seaweed is highly accessible. This accessibility could lead one to believe that seaweed has been eaten as this tradition for centuries because it is cheap and easily accessible to even the common folk. This ease in retrieving and eating the seaweed has led to South Korea pressing about 90 percent of the country’s seaweed crop and to cultivate it they just let it grow on ropes that float near the surface of the water by tethered boeys.

To summarize, in addition to the explanation that HK provided of feeling close to one’s family and culture, there are two other explanations that help understand the reasons that it is traditional to eat seaweed at birth and on somebody’s birthday: The first reason is its obvious nutrient values that help growth and recovery of one’s body and the second reason its Korea’s ease in accessing such a food and its large farming industry that has been built around this access.

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
general
Life cycle
Protection

German Birthday Superstition

Context: The informant was speaking about a birthday of a friend and how this belief was something she practices.

 

Piece:

Informant: One of the superstitions that like a lot of, I think it’s just German people, but like maybe in general European people, that you can’t say Happy Birthday to someone before it’s their actual birthday. It just like causes bad luck and is like a bad omen.

Collector: So in terms of this birthday thing, did you learn that from your parents?

Informant: Yeah it was just like I think like as a kid like I would say like “Oh, it’s almost your birthday” and stuff like that and they would be like oh don’t you don’t say it, you just don’t say it you just don’t say happy birthday before someone’s birthday, it almost jinxes it like you’re not gonna make it to the next birthday

Collector: Do you put this into practice?

Informant: I never say happy birthday before it’s their birthday, I usually don’t mention it until it’s their birthday.

 

Background: The informant is a 20 year old USC student of German descent whose parents raised her with German influence. She also travels to Germany often.

Analysis: This superstition deals with luck and life span. The negative connotation of prematurely wishing someone a happy birthday insinuates that because the yearly cycle has not been completed yet, that there is space for the life to be broken or ended overall. It’s interesting because in American culture, just the act of wishing someone a happy birthday is thought of as a kind gesture. But this piece shows that for German culture it is about the timely nature of when it is said. This probably reflects German ideology on being on time and doing things by the book rather then just for completetion.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Humor
Life cycle
Signs

Birthday Candles Prediction

Text:

P: If you blow out the candles, the amount of times you, it takes for you to blow out the candles is how many children you’re going to have

J: Wow

P: Oh wait, that means you’re going to have one child, cause you blew once

 M: Nooo.

J: See I thought you were saying you get what you wish for and M doesn’t want to have kids, so….

P: But yeah that’s why I said that you’d have zero because I thought it started at zero but I guess it starts at one.

M: But the abortion negates it.

Context: The collector is noted by the letter J. Informant P is the one who knows of this custom, and informant M is celebrating her birthday. Informant P learned this belief from her Indian parents.

Analysis: This custom celebrates not only the birth of the person blowing the candles but also their potential fertility and their future as a reproductive being. That said, the idea of blowing out the candle isn’t necessarily inherently sexual, but instead is just a physical way of blowing out the flames. Perhaps the flame is a representation of single life without children and each failed blow is a child that fails to tame the fire of the blower’s sexuality. However, this isn’t meant to be a ritual to bring on the children but is instead a predictive belief. Despite this, I am confused as to how to reconcile with the fact that people have multiple birthdays. Does the number of blows add up from year to year? That seems impossible given that humans don’t tend to have 13 children (assuming that the counting stops once the being is fertile. Or is it an average of all of the blows per birthday? Regardless, the belief itself isn’t concerned with the mathematics of the custom but instead is primarily focused on celebrating birth and fertility.

Foodways
Holidays
Material

El Trancazo: a Familial Cake

Ingredients/Steps:

– preheat oven to 250 degrees Celsius

– Have two pans ready

– 1 Kilo Butter

– 1 Kilo Granulated Sugar (slowly put into mixer while butter is whipping)

– 1 kilo flour

– Add 8 Eggs into Whipped Butter and Sugar

– 8 Egg yolks go into the same bowl

– Set aside the 8 egg whites which remain

– 2 cups of the original Kilo of flour go into Mixer

– For every cup of flour, add a tablespoon of baking powder through a sifter to the mixer

– 2 Oranges and their shavings

– Add a little bit of vanilla (eyeball it)

– Mix the rest of the flour with the juice from the oranges

– You’ll need 1 cup of warm milk; heat for 1 minute in microwave

– Mix the 8 egg whites from earlier with the milk and water

– put 2 Kilos of the batter into each pan

– Prepare topping while cake is in the oven

– put pot on stove with 1 can of sweetened condensed milk and 5 tablespoons of Cacao (bring to a low boil)

– Soak cake part of cake in Bacardi Rum

– Spread what was on the stove onto the cake and spread apricot jelly as well :)

 

A.H. – “I’m the only person who has this recipe written down, it comes from my aunt in San Luis Potosi, and everyone knows about this cake because she always makes it for everyone’s birthday.  It’s literally a concoction of a bunch of stuff; because – her family didn’t have a lot of money growing up, and she didn’t want to have to borrow money from her family, or from anyone, so the recipe basically started when she just took scraps from around the kitchen and put it into the cake.  And it’s just a little bit of everything.”

“She calls it El Trancazo, which literally means like, “getting hit,” so it’s kinda just something that’s thrown together.  And the cake is massive.”

How long has she been making this cake for everyone’s birthday?

A.H. – “The first time she made it was for her first grandchild.”

When it’s someone’s birthday, and they’re in her presence, they know it’s coming?

A.H. – “Yes.  I only learned how to make this cake because I happened to be in Mexico at the time of my cousin’s birthday, and the cake was made.  It took like all day.  If you look at photos of different birthdays, the cake is always there.”

When you think of that cake, or the idea behind it, the fact that it is just thrown together, is it a source of pride?  Identity?  Reminders of your aunt?

A.H. – “I know so much about my aunt’s upbringing – and I know that it was really tragic, really sad, like – her life sucked growing up.  So it’s that idea of – or a sense of, how mothers are just idolized.  Put on a pedestal to the nth degree.  I think it reinforces that idea, that she did what she could with what she could.  My lack of resources isn’t gonna stop me from making my grandchild’s birthday any less memorable or special.”

That’s an idea for you to to live by as well then, that never give up attitude.  As well as just, being reminded of the strength of your great aunt, and maybe your own mother.

A.H. – “Yeah.  I guess.  I don’t think that much about the cake specifically, it’s just very telling to think of everything.  It’s a lot more than just a cake.”

 

It’s a lot more than just a cake.  Again, this cake, created by this person’s aunt, is itself a symbol for the strength and resolve of her family members, some of whom grew up during tough times.  It’s easy to see a theme here; many of these submissions bring to light a strong sense of identity – of solidarity with their family.  Attributes of resolve are what create the fondest of opinions in many people, and this cake reminds me of countless other examples of strength in family.  

 

Adulthood
Childhood
Foodways
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Holidays
Life cycle
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Mince and Tatties

Context:

I conducted this interview over the phone, the subject was born and raised in Scotland before moving to England, Canada, the United States, then to Northern Ireland, and, finally, back to the United States. I knew she continued to practice certain traditions which were heavily present in her childhood and wanted to ask her more about them.

 

Piece:

Subject: Every birthday in our house we always make mince and potatoes, or mince and tatties like we called them when I was a kid.

Interviewer: What does that consist of?

Subject: Well the way we do it is we ground beef, you know, mince beef, and then mashed potatoes and there you go! [Laughs] Sometimes we add vegetables like carrots or peas to go with it which really adds to the flavor.

Interviewer: And why has it become a birthday celebration?

Subject: I’m not sure, I mean we had it all the time growing up, but when we came to America we had it less and it became more of a birthday thing, so that’s just what we do every year now.

 

Analysis:

Upon further research, I’ve found that there is no set recipe or form of cooking this dish, it consists in many variations. There are concerns that British people are no longer eating traditional dishes, but mince and tatties remains the exception as it is extremely popular in Scotland. A survey done in 2009 found that it was the most popular Scottish dish, with a third of respondents saying that they eat it once a week.

In 2006 the European Union introduced new regulations on how meat could be processed, threatening the existence of mince and tatties, resulting in the Scottish National Party leader announcing, “They can take our lives but they will never take our freedom to make mince and tatties!”

It seems that it became a popular dish due to its ability to be canned and fed to a large number of school children.

Source:

Lewis, Susan. “Recipes for Reconnection: Older People’s Perspectives on the Mediating Role of Food in Contemporary Urban Society.” ANTHROPOLOGICAL NOTEBOOKS 12, 2006.

Customs
Foodways
Material

Birthday Traditions

Context & Analysis

The subject, my mother, and I were getting coffee for breakfast and I asked her if she could tell me some stories about her childhood. The subject’s father (who has recently passed away) was a history professor in the Midwest. The family moved frequently because of this, which made it difficult for them to settle in a single area for too long. The subject’s mother was a stay-at-home mother; she also has four other siblings. The subject’s parents were both the children of Norwegian immigrants and emphasized the value of hard work and wise spending habits. The tradition of giving special foods or sweets as gifts is interesting because it reflects the family’s emphasis on not valuing material goods over kindness. The tradition of wrapping their birthday presents in comics is also a reflection of the family’s income level and how fiscally conservative they were in order to have enough money to send all of their kids to college.

Main Piece

“When we had birthdays we—my mom we didn’t have a lot of money first of all, so my mom would just get stuff that we could share ‘cus she wanted to teach us that we could share our gifts. So they would give us candy like licorice, cashews, Andes mints, or sometimes a box of sugar cereal—like cookie crunch or something like that—‘cus we usually didn’t get sugar cereal so we would get, like, candy or something like that that we could share and we could keep it in our room, but after dinner we would have to bring it out and share and the birthday person would bring it out and, um, it was always wrapped in the comic section from the Sunday paper which was always colorful ‘cus my mom didn’t want to spend money on wrapping paper that would be ripped off and thrown away [laughs] so it was always wrapped in the comics.”

Adulthood
Customs
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Quinceanera

I interviewed my informant, a young lady of Mexican descent, in the study lounge of the band office. Because of her upbringing in Mexican culture, she was able and eager to share a lot of folklore and folk traditions. At the top of her list was her experience with the tradition of Quinceaneras, which she learned from her family members. She watched her older cousins performing the event when she was younger, and she had one herself when she turned fifteen. The following is the information she shared with me during the interview:

 

According to my informant, a Quinceanera is a celebration of a young girl’s fifteenth birthday.

 

In the past, they were to show the village/town that this person is now ready to be wed/ now ready to meet suiters. Now it’s more of a celebration of coming into womanhood, and presenting her as such to family and friends

 

Girls wear bridal-like dresses. In modern Quinceaneras, girls wear colors that match the theme color of their party. My informant informed me that she wore a white dress because that was the main color of her party.

 

Quinceaneras also have a Court. The court is made up of seven couple with one main escort to dance with the Quinceanera [here the word is being used to describe the girl herself rather than the entire celebration].

 

At her party, when she enters the room, a waltz is performed with her court. And then she dances with the father/male figures in her family. Her father performs changing of the shoe, which is usually changing a ballet flat to a heal.

 

This is followed by the presentation of the doll. There is a doll that looks like the Quinceanera. She has to present it to a younger female figure (a cousin, or sister). My informant gave her doll to her younger sister at her Quinceanera.

 

My informant also told me that a more recent Quinceanera tradition is the surprise dance. The girl being celebrated will choreograph a modern dance of some sort to entertain guests.

 

It is also expected that the Quinceanera greet every guest and thank them for coming to their party.

 

My information added that Quinceaneras are traditionally for catholic people. There is usually a mass beforehand where they honor the Virgin Mary because she’s the pinnacle of womanhood.

 

I asked my informant for the context of a Quinceanera. She admitted that most of what she shared is based on the American tradition. In the Mexican culture, the whole town would be invited, not just family and friends. The party is usually held anywhere people fit: a ranch, in a dance hall, etc. The entire party also functions as a display of wealth for the family.

 

Analysis

I have ever experienced a Quinceanera party, but I have a great idea of what it’s like based on my informants description. She obviously is well informed about the complexities of the tradition, and was able to explain it to me in a way that was easy to document. I feel that if I ever go to a Quinceanera in the future, I will be knowledgeable of what is happening and why it’s significant.

 

For more information on Quinceaneras (including who celebrates it, and rituals that are part of it), go to https://www.quinceanera-boutique.com/quinceaneratradition.htm

 

Customs
Life cycle

Filipino Birthday Tradition

Informant:

June is from Chicago, Illinois and is a current junior in college.

Piece:

So a family tradition that we have is for all of our birthday’s um instead of baking a cake, my mom would cook a traditional filipino dish called pancit. It’s basically like noodles with like vegetables, chicken meats. All the things you would want. It’s a very healthy dish and it’s supposed to be that instead of a cake which is very fattening and sugary um something that’s healthy so you can live a longer life. There are various i guess different noodles you can use, but my parents always use i guess these same very thing ones.

Collector’s thoughts:

The idea of eating healthy food at one’s birthday in order to guarantee another year of good health is an interesting idea that makes a lot of sense. Not only does the yearly meal work as a good luck charm for good health, but also connects the informant back to his filipino heritage.

Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Mexican Birthday Tradition

Informant:

Joseph is a sophomore social science major at USC.

Piece:

So our family tradition, and i think it’s  a pretty common Latin tradition is that well what our family does is that every time its someone’s birthday party when it comes time for the cake and after they blow out the candles and we take those candles off we always yell mordedura which means bite and the person has to bite the cake. But what they don’t know is that someone always has their hand behind their head and actually smashes their face into the cake. Its one of our favorite most enjoyable traditions ever.

 

Collector’s thoughts:

This tradition is interesting because in any other context the action is rude and mean, but in the context of one’s birthday it is a fun playful tradition that everyone enjoys even when they are the one getting their face smashed into the cake. In this way, this tradition reveals the bonds within families and the importance of birthday traditions.

 

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Birthday Cake Icing Wish

“So for your birthday, obviously you have to have a cake! It has to have your name on it written in icing. Like normal, you get a wish when you blow out the candles. But in my family, you get a second wish when you wipe your own name out and lick the icing off from your name. That second wish is more special. This tradition came about when I was younger. I don’t really remember it exactly, but my parents told me that for one of my birthdays, my brother was jealous. He was jealous of the party they threw for me, my huge cake with my name on it, and of course he wanted attention. So after I blew out the candles, he wiped my name off the cake, ate the frosting, and said, “It’s not your birthday anymore!” Most of the people at the party were laughing about it. At the time, I didn’t think it was funny but now we’ve made it a tradition and just made it into a good luck type thing. It’s something we laugh about every year.”

The informant shared that this tradition was unique to her family, so it’s not a widespread custom. I think the story is very humorous, especially with how the tradition started. She even said that she tells other people to do it as well. When she buys a cake for her friends, she will get one with their name on it just so they can lick off their name and make their second wish. Many times, occasions like this do turn into family traditions. Sometimes during the first time it happens it seems inconvenient or upsetting, but later on it becomes something to laugh about. I think it’s a fun tradition and clever as well. It’s a cute custom that I want to incorporate into my birthday celebrations.

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